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Five London Hotels Which Have Showed The Blitz Spirit – In Spades – During The Pandemic

The capital’s hospitality scene has put up a spirited fight through the Covid crises.

It’s a shocking stat: the UK hospitality industry has lost around £125 billion in sales because of covid-19. But a city which, as Samuel Johnson  put it, offers “all that life can afford” was never going to let a little thing like the most disruptive event in living memory scupper its indefatigable hospitality scene.

As we begin settling into something closer to normality than anything we’ve seen for two years, these are just five of the hotels – all relatively new or newly renovated – which have battled the adversity and are embracing London’s once again bustling hospitality scene with gusto.

Fancy a restrictions-free staycation in the capital? Take your pick…

Middle Eight

The Low Down: newish opening, planting the seeds of a trendy new era for Covent Garden

 

Middle Eight’s QT Bar 

Why would you name your hotel after the eight-bar bridge in popular songs? Well, when you plan for your guests to dance to a melody that deviates slightly from its surrounds, it becomes an apt moniker: particularly when you occupy a site where the Kingsway Hall recording and concert venue once stood.

Shiva Hotels flung open the doors of Middle Eight, Covent Garden (it’s right next to the imposing Freemasons’ Hall building on the cut-through up to Holborn) late last year after a £40 million overhaul whose final stages took place during the lockdowns.

The refurb was intended to transform a humble city hotel – the type the word ‘digs’ might apply to – to more of a spin on the neighbourhood’s bustling, tony, heritage-replete vibe. The extent to which this has been achieved is evident from the moment you’re shrouded in the warm ambience of a cavernous lobby, replete with marble fixtures, driftwood artworks and verdant foliage.

Authentic Italian cuisine at Sycamore Vino Cucina 

Whether you opt for a Classic Chic, Urban Deluxe, Superior Street or Executive Style room (there are 168 in all), expect an organic, soothing colour palette as well as Egyptian-cotton linens, Nespresso coffee machines, nice techie touches (TVs with Chromecast for example) and marble bathrooms with rainfall showers. The two suites on the fifth floor (there are 12 in total, re-designed by London studio Tonik Associates as part of the revamp) have outdoor terraces; elsewhere, they have internal garden-like spaces, bathed in natural light thanks to newly added skylights, graced with petrified grass and plant arrangements.

The suites also offer separate sitting and dining areas, freestanding soaking tubs, unusually well-stocked minibars and elements – single-use plastic water bottles, responsibly made toiletries, recycled plastic bathrobes – that testify to Shiva Hotels’ wish to fly the green flag.

The intended demographic when it comes to the bustling subterranean bar, QT, is hinted at by the regular presence and high-BPM musical choices of the DJs. There are also regular live music nights, comedy evenings and film screenings. QT offers a superb Italian-themed wine list as well as an enviable selection of bourbons and ryes from around the world, plus a cocktail list curated specifically to do them justice.

A suite at Middle Eight 

Their pre-prandials downed, those who wish to stay on site will make a beeline for Sycamore Vino Cucina. “Authentic Italian cuisine” is not exactly a unique claim in the British capital, but this 112-cover eatery’s handmade pizzas, small plates from the cicchetti counter, pit-grilled meats, hand-rolled pasta and meat cured using time-honoured methods all testify to the aptitude of a Head Chef whose fondness for his country’s cuisine began while foraging for ingredients in the Dolomite mountains as a child.

To call this refurb a disruptive one would be a serious understatement. The project involved the re-purposing of various zones, endless knocking down and rebuilding, the conversion of outdoor space into indoor space and the addition of mezzanine floors and skylights – and has turned Middle Eight into a bricks-and-mortar embodiment of the omelette/breaking eggs adage.

An evening screening at the QT bar 

In deference to the opening lyrics from one of the most famous middle-eights in rock history, “Life is very short”, readers are implored to pay it a visit.

From £800 per night for the suites, BOOK NOW 

The Dilly

The lowdown: a hip microcosm of the British capital’s mojo

 

The Dilly’s imperious exterior, just off Piccadilly Circus 

Viewed from the air (or Google Earth), the building that houses the Dilly Hotel bears a passing resemblance to the neck and jaws of a crocodile, peering past the Eros statue and down Shaftsbury Avenue. Seen from street level, with its arch-shaped recesses and imperious colonnades requisite to Neo-Baroque architecture based on 17th century English Palladian, it’s a positive show-boater.

Originally opened as The Piccadilly Hotel in 1908, before being purchased by Le Meridien in 1986, The Dilly reopened its doors to operate as an independent establishment between the lockdowns, with a single-minded objective: “To be the place to see and be seen in Piccadilly, as it once was,” as Alex Pritchard, director of Axiom Hospitality, which is managing the property for owners Archer Hotel Capital, puts it.

One of the hotel’s impressively sized – especially for the area – suites 

It’s an aim which asserts itself the moment the visitor enters a stunningly appointed lobby in which Hague Blue paintwork mingles with maps of London, flecks of coloured light projected via stained glass and an imposing “Dilly” lettering sculpture hanging from the ceiling. All this forthright opulence is overlooked by a mezzanine area, Balcony at The Dilly, which serves proudly English drinks – Chapel Down fizz, London-distilled Bimber whisky, Camden Ale – for suite guests.

To the right, elaborate floral garments flank a small outlet of Pulbrook & Gould: the Buckingham Palace Road-based florist which services Windsor Castle and The Houses Of Parliament. Referring to suppliers and partners for the hotel, Pritchard says: “We want to find those that can give The Dilly a really special, local feel, which we believe is a new concept for London, whether it be with flowers, guest amenities, food or London sourced drinks.”

The foyer, with the entrance to Madhu’s at The Dilly in one corner 

On the opposite side, leading to a space once occupied by Marco Pierre White’s Oak Room, is the entrance to Madhu’s at The Dilly, the hotel’s very own fine dining restaurant offering Punjabi cuisine with a dash of Kenyan influence. The experience begins – having waited for your table in the company of a cocktail with an Indian twist (the Tamarind Martini is popular amongst a growing legion of regulars) – with a series of delectable sharing starters, presented on trays hung from a sterling silver Ferris wheel roughly the size of an SUV tyre (the Tandoori salmon is as exquisitely textured and spiced as any you’ll taste). When it comes to mains, the signature dish – Nyamah Choma, prime cuts of lamb rib marinated in chilli and lemon – is another firm favourite amongst those who now know the staff by their first names.

The other major dining area, where an excellent breakfast buffet is served, is two floors up: a vast former hothouse, now terrace area, overlooking Piccadilly, that has barely changed since the building was erected. Reports about the hotel from jazz-era American newspapers, lovingly archived by the hotel for posterity, depict this space as the location of choice for fashionable London society; some even depict a pool – or more of a giant, round bathtub – although how the floor took the weight remains a mystery.

The Dilly’s first-floor terrace and alternative dining area 

The pool area now is in the basement, along with spacious gym, steam room, a dance studio (lessons are available), a Spa by Yoma and two squash courts: extraordinary, when you remember precisely where you are.

There’s plenty more to recommend The Dilly: the pleasantly appointed but only subtly opulent 255 rooms and 28 suites; the fuss-free but attentive service and concierge offering (Director of Guest Experience Paul Whittle is fabulously connected when it comes to ticket acquisition, and his past experience as a photographer is handy for the Insta-inclined); the small touches, such as the classic British red phone box fashioned from marzipan and other sweet treats that newly arrived guests find in their rooms.

The Mezzanine Lounge 

Since March, Downstairs at The Dilly – an intimate piano bar, a flight of stairs below the hotel’s, lobby – has offered a speakeasy vibe but with an extensive collection of curated, London-themed cocktails: a must-visit for revellers who, whether visitors to or denizens of London, want to feel the city’s very essence seeping from ever brick, but are left cold by cheesy pastiche.

The Dilly Executive Suite starts at £409 per night, BOOK NOW

The Londoner

The lowdown: a new boutique behemoth in one corner of Leicester Square

 

The Londoner occupies one corner of one of the busiest urban hotspots on the planet 

This 16-storey five-star ‘super boutique’ hotel is widely billed as London’s biggest hospitality launch since the start of the pandemic: and our recent visit and tour proved this description to be anything but hyperbole.

The result of a 14-year, £500 million refurb, The Londoner – which opened in late 2021 – has, on top of its, 350 guest rooms and suites, six restaurants and bars including (despite being 5500-plus miles from California) a superfood and smoothie bar; beneath them it has a cinema, a gym, pool, ballroom and a private members’ club.

Andrew Rae’s moon sculpture hangs in the lobby  Andrew Beasley Photography

The Londoner also describes itself as an ‘iceberg hotel’: this is because it has six subterranean levels, one of the deepest urban basements in the world, and there’s something particularly gratifying about lounging around on a Cabana bed in a soothingly peaceful pool area (never exactly an onerous experience) knowing that one of the world’s most bustling urban zones – and one of its major red carpet hotspots – is going about its usual frenetic business just metres above you.

The Retreat Pool  Andrew Beasley Photography

Should your spa time include a few treatment sessions, these have been outsourced to Cotswolds ‘healing hideaway’ Ila for women’s massages (think Tibetan acupressure and scalp massages with plenty of aromatherapy and balms over oils). Men are taken care of using an anti-ageing cosmeceutical range from London based spa, grooming and barbershop concept Gentlemen’s Tonic. If you’re still stuck for a Father’s Day gift, by the way, consider The Signature Experience: a package featuring facial, hair cut and style, beard trim or shave and nose or ear wax (£140 per person).

Possibly against the advice of your masseur, you’ll then be tempted to repair to The Residence, a collection of three guest-only spaces. These are comprised of The Y Bar (check out the carvings on the timber walls); The Drawing Room (where hand-painted wall murals call the shots aesthetically); and The Whisky Room, a plush venue with a cosily Vaseline-rubbed-on-the lens feel about it. Don’t leave the latter without trying a Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned – which blends Japanese malts (Yamazaki 12 year old, Hibiki Harmony and Hakushu) with Woodford Reserve rye plus chocolate and orange bitter.

Visitors to The Whisky Room are spoiled for choice, to put it mildly  Andrew Beasley Photography

Décor wise, Yabu Pushelberg has shown an admirable lack of restraint. Antony Gormley and Idris Khan are among those who have contributed to the 400 artworks on display (there’s also a moon sculpture by Andrew Rae hanging from the reception ceiling) behind the

glittering blue-glazed tiles of an edifice which more than holds its own when it comes to competing for passers-by attention in one of the most visually arresting little zones of the planet. When first taking the lift, make sure you hold your eye close to the two peepholes posing as buttons and take in the embedded miniature Victorian pieces… There are also curios such a Tim Walker portrait of Tilda Swinton and a framed letter from Jeremy Corbyn to Theresa May outlining his opposition to Brexit.

Andrew Beasley Photography

The Tower Penthouse Suite

A hotel being a ‘boutique’ one, of course, refers not to it being small – how could it, here? – but essentially to design focus and no two rooms being the same. Here, the rooms pack a more restrained feel than the public areas, with their timber-and-tactile-textiles feel, and are far lighter thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows. We recommend the Tower Penthouse Suite (from £20,000 per night), a two-storey space boasting a Calacatta Tucci marble bar, marble powder room and eclectic art, sculptures and furnishings from around the world.

If you only get to try one of the five restaurants on offer, opt for fuss-free but done-to-perfection French Mediterranean cuisine at Whitcomb’s: the escargots cooked in n’duja lemon butter pasta and fish followed by seared lobster with rigatoni (insist on wine-pairing) together make up one of the best meals available in a locale which whose gravitational pull for tourists tends to keep culinary excellence at bay.

The Ballroom – part of The Londoner’s six-storey underground offerings  Andrew Beasley Photography

In short, The Londoner – fully deserving of that cheekily presumptuous moniker – is surely a British capital icon-in-the-making.

The Tower Penthouse Suite starts at £20,000 per night, BOOK NOW

The Churchill

The lowdown: a hospitality paean to Britain’s wartime leader, which stayed open throughout the pandemic

 

The Churchill’s cavernous reception/dining/drinks area 

Here’s a rare thing: a five-star London hotel that remained open throughout both lockdowns, albeit only for those travelling for government-permitted reasons. Still, the man after whom this grand Marylebone establishment is named would no doubt raise a two-finger salute in response to The Churchill’s tenacity in the face of the pandemic: “If you’re going through hell, keep going”, is a quote often attributed to the most lauded Prime Minister in British history, after all.

“Named after” Churchill, in fact, is a serious understatement for a Hyatt Group hotel, a short stroll from Hyde Park, Marble Arch and Oxford Street, built in 1970 by developer Sir Eric Miller, whose regard for the eponymous wartime leader seems to have known no bounds. In the 440 rooms (including 50 suites), carpets and headboards pay subtle homage to the pinstriped suits ‘Winnie’ would regular be fitted for in Henry Poole and Huntsman.

Pinstripe headboards pay homage to Winston Churchill’s common choice of suit fabric 

Indoor diners at The Churchill Bar & Terrace (conceived by internationally acclaimed design firm Spinocchia Freund) are surveyed by a vast portrait of Churchill. Those who dine outside on the heated alfresco terrace have the company of Lawrence Holofcener’s sculpture of a younger, unusually skinny, brandy-and-cigar-clutching Winston (staff, in deference to a ritual his wife Clementine carried out each day, place a fresh rose in the sculpture’s lapel every morning).

Meanwhile, the Hyatt team and designers Bowler James Brindley even consulted Randolph and Catherine Churchill, Churchill’s great grandson and wife, while rethinking the interiors. The family also had an input on what spirits and wines would be stocked in the bar, whilst Churchill Heritage curated all of hotel’s artworks, which include many of the great man’s own original works.

The lobby is replete with nods to Britain’s wartime leader  SIMONJOHNOWEN

The books on all the shelves in public areas (including the Library suite, which now holds 50 people in a banquet format or 75 as a reception area), curated by Daunt Books around the corner in Marylebone, feature literature by, or reflecting the interests of… You’ve guessed it, the man nicknamed the “British Bulldog”. And they’re not short on detail here: guests taking a book from a shelf are encouraged to emulate Churchill’s habit of placing a soft-toy dog in the empty spot on the shelf so they know where to replace it.

Despite the prevalence of the theme, it surprisingly never feels obtrusive, and The Churchill feels like a special place to be the moment the visitor walks into an opulent marble foyer, vast enough to give the grand piano in the corner a pleasing, cocktail evening-friendly reverb when it’s played in the evenings.

Exclusive guest access to Portman Square is a major draw 

Location wise, The Churchill basks in the urban-village glow of Marylebone – a vortex of calm in a whirlpool of urban hyperactivity – which is a massive USP, of course, as is the guest access to Portman Square and its private tennis court. Then there’s its impressive repertoire of newly renovated event spaces: the cavernous Chartwell Ballroom, which holds 350 people standing; the gallery (which holds up to 130 people); plus two boardrooms, holding up to eight people at a time.

Food at The Montagu Kitchen, as dictated by Executive Chef Roger Olsson, is said to be based on what grew in the gardens of Chartwell, Churchill’s home in Kent: a concept executed, perhaps, with some artistic licence. The salt march lamb with swede, pine nuts and anchovy and the sole with tartare sauce, lemon and purple potato are standout specialities.

The Montagu Kitchen 

Meanwhile, for Summer, The Churchill Bar & Terrace’s resident mixologists have created a new sustainable cocktail menu. Each concoction highlights issues such as forest protection, renewable energy, air quality and wildlife conservation (try Full Circle, which contains Lakes English Whisky, home-cured beetroot and herbs from the bar’s solar panel-powered grow-light garden).

The décor in the guest rooms is clean, contemporary but with a dash of subtle neoclassical flourish here and there; the top accommodation option, The Churchill Residential Suite, meanwhile, is a 325 sqm four-bedroom offering with a 10-person dining room, living room (featuring more of Churchill’s original artworks and grand piano), study, kitchen and a rooftop terrace.

Churchill’s relatives had a say on what spirits and wines should be stocked in the bar  SIMON JOHN OWEN

Here’s a little gem for trivia buffs: the first ever recorded use of ‘OMG’ was in a letter to Winston Churchill, from the British admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher, in 1917. Visitors here may find themselves using the now ubiquitous initialism at every turn.

From £3,500 per night for the Churchill Residential Suite, BOOK NOW

The Twenty Two

The lowdown: brand new, off-beat boutique lifestyle hotel, set within an Edwardian manor

 

The Twenty Two is part of a growing London trend for luxury hotels within townhouses 

“We want to redefine the traditional Mayfair hotel and club by bringing a new community to this iconic part of the city,” Navid Mirtorabi, the former owner of Blakes in South Kensington, has said of another new ‘boutique’ opening in the capital, which has 31 bedrooms and suites, an all-day restaurant and a private members’ club.  “[We want] to create a space where people can come together and feel welcome, regardless of where they come from, what their profession is and what they choose to wear.”

Mirtorabi has also referred to the hotel, which is situated within a 42,500 sq ft Edwardian manor on Grosvenor Square, as being where “the creative and the curious, in London and globally, can come together and feel welcome”. If, on visiting, you feel his vision has been fulfilled, much of the credit goes to Natalia Miyar. Inspired by 18th century France (as a nod to the building’s distinctly Parisian-looking facade), the London and Miami-based designer has, in conjunction with French interior designer Bambi Sloan, opted for embroidered silks, velvets and patterned wallpapers for the interiors, the overall affect of which is an inspiring symphony of unabashed maximalism which contrasts elegantly with the sympathetically restored original architectural features (including double-height ceilings).

Gloriously unrestrained decor inspired by 18th Century France 

In the restaurant, British fare with a tinge of southern European influence is overseen by Executive Chef Alan Christie, formerly of Arbutus in Putney Bridge: if you find yourself dithering over the menu, go for the delectable roast turbot, slow-cooked leeks, anchovy butter, Hollandaise Dover Soul Meuniere, capers and parsley; pre-prandials, meanwhile, should include Tears of Llorona No. 3: the pick of the hotel bar’s incredible selection of tequilas, which also includes Extra Anejo, Dulce Vida Anejo Lone Star Edition, Petals Collection Ceramic Organic Extra Añej.

British, with a twist of southern European, is what’s served up in the Twenty Two’s restaurant: a menu overseen by Executive Chef Alan Christie 

Don’t forget to check out what’s showing in the Artist in Residency Programme in the private dining room during any given visit.

The standalone Mews House, with its own separate entrance, sleeps £2,660 per night, BOOK NOW

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